After more than two weeks, the NCAA Season 95 seniors basketball tournament resumes with the first phase of stepladder semifinals between the third-seeded Letran Knights and the fourth-seeded San Sebastian Stags.
Both teams will figure in a knockout game on Tuesday at the Cuneta Astrodome with the winner moving on to face the second-seeded Lyceum Pirates.
Here's a closer look at their upcoming postseason duel:
First meeting: San Sebastian def. Letran, 102-101 (overtime)
Second meeting: Letran def. San Sebastian, 99-82
How Letran got here
The Letran Knights ended up as the number one team in scoring with an average of 84.8 per game. Their 44.6 percent shooting from the field is second only to defending champions San Beda Red Lions.
Star forward Jerrick Balanza leads his team in scoring with 15.1 points per game with a 40.7 shooting clip. Balanza's game has vastly improved since his rookie days and not even a career-threatening injury the year before can slow down the graduating swingman. His size and length make him a tough cover for any defender and his shot-making ability off the dribble is topnotch.
Letran is not a team that overwhelms opponents with immense talent, but rather by size and length. The Knights are first in rebounding (45.2), second in points in the paint (38.8) and second chance points (12.1). They have a wealth of skilled big men in Larry Muyang, Ato Ular, Jeo Ambohot, Mark Sangalang, and Pao Javillonar who can score in the shaded area and clog the lane on the defensive end. Controlling the boards and dominating in the painted area are two of the Knights' most potent weapons and they'll surely try to bully their way against the San Sebastian Stags.
How Sebastian got here
Led by the one-two punch of Allyn Bulanadi and RK Ilagan, the Stags have racked up 11 wins in Season 95, five more than their total a season ago. Bulanadi's 20.3 points per game is the best in the league and he's shooting 41.7 percent from the field, spiked by 2.3 triples per contest. The super scorer also has a knack of getting to the line, ranking third overall in free throws made. Ilagan, meanwhile, put up 14.7 points after the elimination round as San Sebastian's second-leading scorer. Like Bulanadi, Ilagan is deadly from beyond the arc with 2.3 a game. What makes him unique, however, is his ability to get a variety of shots even under duress. Whether it's a 30-footer with the shot clock winding down or a difficult drive into the lane, Ilagan is a superb point-getter.
As a whole, the Stags are a deadly offensive team. They are first in free throws (72.8 percent), second in 3-point shooting (32.5 percent), second in perimeter points (34.9), second in points per 100 possessions (101.82), and are right behind the Knights in scoring (81.2).
What Letran needs to do
The Knights need to utilize their strengths, play their brand of basketball and punish the Stags in the paint. Balanza can handle the scoring, but they also need solid performances from the trio of Muyang, Ular, and Ambohot in terms of getting second chance opportunities and rebounds.
Letran guards Bonbon Batiller and Fran Yu will also play a key role in the knockout game. The two played great particularly in the second round and they need to carry their output against the Stags. The Knights don't need a 20-point game from either of them, but they can put pressure on the defense by getting into the lane or by spreading the floor with their outside shooting.
Defensively, the Knights need to figure out ways to limit the duo of Bulanadi and Ilagan. It'll be interesting to see if Letran puts in different defenders to slow them down. And while outstanding individual defense should already be a given, team defense will also be critical. Closing out on the perimeter while also clogging the lane will be a tall order, but a necessity for the Knights if they want to advance.
What San Sebastian needs to do
The Stags need production outside of Bulanadi and Ilagan. Even if the duo manages to have good scoring outputs, it still doesn't guarantee that San Sebastian will win. And if somehow the Knights limit at least one of the two stars, the Stags will be in trouble.
Standouts Alvin Capobres and JM Calma had their moments throughout the season and they need to show up in the playoffs. Capobres is the third leading scorer with 12.6 a game, followed by Calma's 8.1.
Bench play in the postseason will also play a pivotal role and San Sebastian's bench has been subpar, to say the least. They are ninth in bench points, managing just 24.6 per game, which is the almost complete opposite of their league-leading stater points of 56.6. The role players need to step up for the Stags.